A new bottom line

In Mexico’s most impoverished province, a powerful model for transforming our current economic and food systems for the better has taken root.

At the core of one of the oldest and most reputable community-based organizations in the state of Chiapas, Desarrollo Económico Social de los Mexicanos Indígenas (DESMI), is an alternative economic model called the Solidarity Economy.

Rather than seeing profit and material developments as the sole measure of success, the Solidarity Economy is grounded in the values of equity, environmental sustainability, cooperation and in strengthening the Peasant Economy.

DESMI builds on the practical experiences of indigenous people in the realm of economic, social and ecological life; including managing local resources, developing agroecological techniques, the trueque (barter system), and mutual support in collective community improvement projects that puts people and the care and protection of Mother Earth over profit.

A Thousand Currents partner since 1992, DESMI works closely with nearly 200 indigenous communities across the state of Chiapas, supporting the livelihoods of thousands of families. DESMI accompanies people as they reimagine a world where the needs of the entire community are met, as a practice of Buen Vivir (Lequil kuxlejal – Ichel, or “living well”).

DESMI also runs 10 agroecology centers created by the autonomous communities and that serve as demonstration farms, spaces for training and development of men and women promoters in these centers, giving farmers hands-on opportunities to build critical skills in the areas of animal husbandry and organic farming, improving production yields and soil fertility. Ongoing trainings also include topics such as cooperative values and accounting. DESMI has also helped launch about 80 family vegetable gardens, almost all of them managed by women.

The market is where products become income, and DESMI supports farmers in this realm as well. DESMI walks and learns together with farmers to organize and sell their products collectively at scale directly to exporters. Small farmers growing coffee in the region have been able to increase their incomes by connecting directly to foreign markets.

What DESMI has accompanied together with collectives in the communities is a true feat, especially given the political and environmental climate in which it operates. While it is one of the poorest region in Mexico, Chiapas is also one of Mexico’s most resource-rich in its biodiversity, attracting foreign investment in mining, petroleum and tourism industries—at the expense of indigenous communities. Also, global warming has meant that soil in Chiapas has become increasingly unproductive, among other problems, as large multinational corporations encroach on indigenous farmers’ rights and denying their free access to land and resources.

María Estela Barco Huerta at the Agroecology Learning Exchange in Chiapas in 2013.

That’s why DESMI is extending its work beyond Chiapas, to help build a movement for food sovereignty in the region. Its Agroecology Learning Exchange in 2013 brought nearly a 100 activists from across Latin America—including Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—to confront the challenges of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), encroaching agribusinesses, and loss of culture for small, indigenous farmers in the region.

Putting people over profits means a new bottom line; solidarity and community self-determination for indigenous and peasant farmers is what must grow.

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